Week 3: Baños (Ecuador) & Cusco (Peru)

Trip Start Mar 31, 2014
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Trip End Sep 18, 2014


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Flag of Peru  , Cusco,
Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hola!

We left Quito (Ecuador) on Monday by bus and headed 3 hours south to a small town called Baños. The bus trip was not as smooth as we experienced in Peru, as it seemed to stop to pick up and drop off locals all along the highway, rather than the direct trip which we expected. The scenery along the way was much nicer than our first trip in Peru though...lots of green hills and mountains, and huge volcanoes in the distance.

Baños reminded us a little of Queenstown (NZ) - a small, touristy town, with lots of adventure activities to keep you occupied, and surrounded by beautiful, lush mountains. It was easy to get around (you could walk the town end to end in about 15/20 minutes!), with plenty to do, and lots of nice places to eat!

On our first full day we hired bikes and road about 26km through the hills and past many waterfalls, stopping a couple of times to watch people go zip lining and bungee jumping. We also stopped off at Pailon de Diablo (Devil's Cauldron), the most impressive of the waterfalls, which we had a downhill trek to get to, but it was well worth it. We decided to keep riding, but regretted it shortly after (Sally was struggling with the rock-hard bike seat) as we realised we'd gone too far to get the bus back (there was no turning back as it would be all uphill) but once we reached the next town we were able to get a lift back to town with a local.

In the evening we headed to the hot springs next to a small waterfall, which was absolutely packed with both locals and tourists! It was fairly relaxing, but in the main pool there wasn't a lot of room to move.

The following day we went whitewater rafting on Pastaza river (level 3 rapids), which was great fun! It was the first time for both of us, but we picked it up quite easily and will definitely do it again, hopefully somewhere else in South America. We didn't capsize though, which was slightly disappointing :-) . The tour included lunch, and when we returned to town we decided to finish off the afternoon with a nice, cheap massage (however it wasn't as pleasant as we hoped).

On Thursday morning we headed back to Quito, arriving in the early afternoon. After checking into the hostel we spent the afternoon in the Old Town, visiting in particular the Calle de la Ronda, an old restored cobbled street filled with cafés and shops, and then the La Compania Church, which has an interior covered in gold...quite incredible.

We left the hostel early Friday morning (5am) to get to the airport to fly to Cusco (via Lima). We had a 3 or so hour stopover in Lima, so most of the day seemed to be spent reading whilst waiting for time to go by. We arrived in Cusco late afternoon, which was perfect timing to catch the Good Friday parade in the main square, Plaza de Armas, which included a marching band, Jesus being carried in a coffin, local church groups singing (old Peruvian women), etc.

Saturday was spent visiting several handicraft and food markets, walking around the city, and doing the free Cusco walking tour. However one of the key highlights of the day was our visit to San Pedro Market, which included the local delicacies of guinea pig, (whole) pigs and a few cow faces!! We've included some photos for your enjoyment :-).

On Sunday morning we walked up the hill to the White Christ statue, which included great views of Cusco. After heading back down and booking our Sacred Valley tour for the following day, we met up with Vegard and Helle from the Galápagos trip for lunch, and after walking around the city for a bit we all headed to the perfect location on Easter Sunday: the Chocolate Museum. We hoped to do a chocolate making course but unfortunately it was fully booked, so instead we all just ate and drank chocolate!

Afterwards we caught a unique street performance, where locals were dressed in traditional costume and danced (?) along to a band (pan flutes, drums and the odd shell and goat horn). The performance included them whipping each other's ankles (strange we know, and the photos probably don't do it justice), but it was entertaining. We then caught up with Vegard and Helle again a few hours later for a couple of beers and dinner, including alpaca steak cooked on a hot stone (yum). Great afternoon!

To finish this week's blog we thought we'd include a few lasting memories from Ecuador:
- They sell some really unusual things on the street - shoelaces & soles, TV remotes, lottery tickets, ice creams out of a bucket of dry ice, and fried bananas, just to name a few.
- Popcorn is commonly given before entree/main meals to nibble on. It was even available at the breakfast buffet in Quito!
- Things are so much cheaper here than at home, especially beer, which you can get for around $2 for a 600ml bottle. And a good breakfast was less than $4.
- There seem to be just as many dogs roaming the streets as people!!

We're looking forward to our tour to the sacred valley in the morning.

Adios Amigos (the amount of times our free city tour guide called us all 'amigos' was mind boggling!).

Mitch & Sally
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